Question: Our employee was injured at work and needs to be off work for two months. The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was accepted. The plant manager told the employee that medical leave is covered by workers’ comp and to call when they’re cleared to come back to work. Are we missing something?
Answer: Yes. Treating an on-the-job injury solely as a workers’ comp claim may violate key requirements of state and federal leave laws. Workers’ compensation insurance covers medical costs and lost wages for an employee who is injured at work, and it often provides injured workers with reinstatement and reemployment rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and many state leave laws, give employees the right to protected leave if they are unable to work due to a qualifying reason, including on-the-job injuries. Additionally, both the FMLA and many state leave laws require continuation of medical insurance while an employee is off work, which workers’ compensation insurance doesn’t require. A federal court recently ruled that providing workers’ compensation benefits doesn’t relieve a company of its duties under the FMLA. The employee brought a claim for FMLA interference because the company failed to provide her with required FMLA notices and terminated her when she couldn’t pass her fitness-for-duty test. Had the company properly administered FMLA, the employee could have received up to 12 weeks of protected leave to recover from her on-the-job injury. (Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC, 11th Cir, April 2021).
The overlap between workers’ compensation and leave laws can be confusing. You should have a leave administration process in place to ensure consistency, confidentiality, and sufficient documentation to satisfy both workers’ comp and applicable leave laws. Leave administrators should understand the difference between the various leave laws, and managers should be regularly trained on how to respond to leave requests and when to engage HR in the process. For more information, review our Legal Guides, FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Overlap, and FMLA: Qualifying Events and Notice Requirements, and consult with your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney when complex situations arise.